A representative with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is clarifying boater requirements amid the search for the missing men of the Seacor Power.
Search and rescue crews reached out to the NOAA to temporarily change a rule for boats helping in the search for the missing crew members of the Seacor Power. The volunteers want permission to tie a net (Turtle Excluder Device) that helps with sea turtle conservation. The NOAA, however, says the devices need to be used properly or removed completely and replaced with other equipment.
In a press release on April 22, (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/bulletin/noaa-fisheries-announces-advance-notice-proposed-rulemaking-consider-use-turtle)Michael Barnette wrote a reminder that skimmer trawl operators are allowed to use tow times instead of turtle excluder devices or TEDs because the implementation of the rule was pushed back from April 1, 2021 to August 1, 2021.
He said the date was changed to allow time to teach fishermen of the coming requirements, which has been a challenge amid the pandemic.
Barnette explained to KATC that the tow time rule means, every year between April 1 and October 1, fishermen using skimmer trawls without TEDs must raise their net every 55 minutes to check the size of the catches (every 75 minutes during other parts of the year).
This allows for sea turtles to be found and released, instead of the turtles potentially drowning while caught in the nets, however the success rate is not as high as using TEDs.
The tow time rule was published in the 1980s when research identified trawling as having a significant impact on the sea turtle population which was on the brink of extinction.
"The sea turtle populations have recovered quite well and it's an on-going success story," Barnett explained in reference to the use of TEDs and tow times.
NOAA suggested the fisherman involved in the rescue efforts remove the TEDs and replace their tail bags with a tail bag that has at least 4 inches of stretch mesh. Barnett says he understands the process to switch out the gear can be costly; however he believes it can be done in a few hours.
When asked about how the rules affected the search and rescue efforts, Barnette says, "We're not putting sea turtle lives over human lives or the recovery process." He explained that it would be a time-consuming process to clear the request from the volunteers to tie the TEDs temporarily and it would be difficult to legally establish a boundary and enforce it.
NOAA is currently considering expanding the requirement of TEDs for skimmer trawls less than 40 feet long, but no decision has been made.
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